Thursday, March 20, 2008

BEYOND SMELLS AND BELLS by Mark Galli (LaVonne's review)

My sainted father--and I call him that without a trace of irony--once told me that there were two kinds of worship he simply couldn't identify with: charismatic and liturgical. This from a man who studied history and theology, taught worship in a seminary, and wrote a book called And Worship Him. Dad's favorite definition of worship was from Ilion T. Jones: "what a thinking man does as he approaches another thinking being called God."

"We must not seek a brand of worship that is purely aesthetic," my father wrote in 1967. "Worship must be orderly and beautiful, but . . . it should have the functional beauty of a jet airplane rather than the embellishment of a nineteenth-century railway coach." My father liked old-school Protestant services with stately hymns, long sermons, and immobile congregations.

I do not.

My frequent attempts to change my father's views were unsuccessful, however. I should never have taken him to St. Barnabas Episcopal Church; its jet-airplane decor did not sufficiently atone for its Anglo-Catholic liturgy. And if Dad were still living, I probably shouldn't give him Mark Galli's new book either--though I'm quite sure I would anyway. Hope springs eternal.

Beyond Smells and Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy (Paraclete, 2008) is a short, easy-to-read introduction that explains and defends liturgical worship "for those who find themselves attracted to liturgy but don't quite know why." Galli, an Anglican, draws mostly from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (with occasional quotations from Methodist, Lutheran, or Catholic liturgies) as he sings the praises of liturgy: how it can draw us closer to God and to one another; how it can affect our sense of time and place; how it can transform our faith, our imagination, our entire being.

"In a culture that assumes that truth is a product of the mind, the liturgy helps us experience truth in both mind and body."

--Mark Galli, Beyond Smells and Bells, 11

Galli belongs to a church teeming with Wheaton College students, many with little previous experience of ancient liturgies. His book is tailor-made for them. It is also ideal for their often baffled parents.

Mark is clearly in love with liturgy, but he is not triumphalist about it: he recognizes that liturgy is no guarantee of spiritual life, and he does not denigrate other forms of Christian worship. Readers from non-liturgical traditions may be challenged by his assertions, but they will not feel threatened.

I wish I could test the book on my father. Clearly not attracted to liturgy, he would not be part of the readership Galli had in mind. Nevertheless, I like to think Dad--and others like him--would find Galli's apologia illuminating.

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